“Healthy Summer Learners” program takes aim at weight gain & reading loss over the summer

Published: Jul. 22, 2019 at 7:07 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Elementary schoolers at Jackson Creek Elementary are getting a summer camp experience that researchers hope other school districts across the state can model for years to come.

Glenn Weaver, a researcher and assistant professor at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health, is in the midst of a pilot program called “Healthy Summer Learners.” The program was funded through the National Institute of Health. Weaver is hoping to extend the grant and reach more schools in the future. The first two years of the program have been at Jackson Creek Elementary School in Richland Two as well as at the Boys and Girls Club.

"There are several programs that focus on academics and health during the summer,” Weaver said. “But there's very few that focus on academics and health in the same program."

The program takes aim at both reading proficiency loss and weight gain over the summer. The program targets “high need” kids, children who come from low-middle income families, or kids who struggle academically. The school identifies those children and the grant sponsors them to go to the Healthy Summer Learners six week camp.

"There are three elements to the program,” Weaver explained. “The first is healthy eating... we provide a breakfast and a lunch that meet USDA summer feeding guidelines. The second element is academics, so the kids receive 3 1/4 hours of reading instruction in small groups. And the final component is physical activity opportunities. It's a combination of structured and free play."

Jackson Creek’s assistant principal, DeonAndre Richardson, said he believes in the power of summer camp – and his kids love this one.

"It has been awesome. I greet them at the door when the buses come in,” Richardson said. “They hug us and they're ready to come in and get to work."

Weaver is applying for a five-year extension to the grant, to service more kids.

"The idea with healthy summer learners is it can serve as a model for school districts in the state of South Carolina and the southeast,” Weaver said.

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